More Information on the Hoffman Scandal

Earlier, I suggested that the Hoffman Scandal is the single best piece of evidence against the veracity of the Mormon faith (in its particular LDS form). JoAnna asks,

Fascinating post. I wonder how Mormon apologists deal with the 1981 forgery scandal?

I’m not sure. To be honest, I discovered it from (I believe) the History Channel, and most of the reading I’ve done on it has been through secular news articles. The whole Hoffman Scandal was much bigger than just this attempted sale to President Hinckley. In fact, Hoffman’s currently in jail for murder after blowing two people up. It may be that given the complexity of the case, the shadiness of Hoffman’s character, and the fact that the documents turned out to be forgeries allows some LDSers to write the whole thing off.

But here’s some extra info for why they shouldn’t. A Time article from 1981, written when they thought the document was authentic, tells us of the contents:

One of the documents, dated Jan. 17, 1844, contained a text of Smith’s blessing, including these crucial words: “… the anointing of the progenitor shall be upon the head of my son, and his seed after him, from generation to generation. For he shall be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right . . .”


In other words, if this document were true, Brigham Young would be a usurper, and his entire line – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – illegitimate. Joseph Smith, the Muhammad of Mormonism, had explicitly ordained Joe III to be successor, not Brigham Young.

So how did the LDS Church respond, when faced with this fact? Remember now, this is while the document is still assumed authentic (even by the LDS First Presidency), and they’re being questioned simply on what this means for them theologically, not why they tried to cover it up. In response,

Earl Olson, assistant managing director of the Mormons’ historical department, says that the discovery requires little or no ” re-evaluation” of how the 4.7 million-member church pick its leaders. In other words the rival groups probably their will continue to go their seperate ways.

So here the LDS Church thinks it’s been totally and completely debunked, that the claim to valid lineage from Joseph Smith has been decisively severed, and their response? Eh. Doesn’t matter. Perhaps this answers your question, JoAnna?

EDIT: JoAnna provides some great info in the combox:

I was curious about the LDS response, and did some Googling. Hinkley’s explanation is here. Note that this was written prior to the forgery being discovered, although there is an editor’s note to that effect. It’s an interesting take; the two main points being (a) it was a blessing and not an ordination, which JSIII allegedly claimed as well; and (b) BY apparently looked and sounded like Joseph Smith, so obviously he was the real heir.It doesn’t begin to address the question of why Hinkley, being a genuine prophet of God, didn’t know from the first that it was a forgery — the strongest point of your argument. Also, the claim is that the document was made public immediately and subsequently gifted to the RLDS due to it’s “sentimental value.” No mention of trying to have it destroyed, etc.

I think that the argument for (a) is weakened by one serious fact: Hoffman, an anti-LDS forger, designed what he thought would be the most slam-dunk piece of evidence for an ordination (or at least a clear note of succession). The specific language, “For he shall be my successor” is either prescriptive or prophetic: that is, he’s either saying, “I am making him my successor” or he’s predicting, “he will become my successor.”

So let’s take Hinckley’s argument: Joseph Smith, Jr., isn’t ordaining Joe III; it’s not a prescription. In that case, it’s a prophesy (not, mind you, a vague blessing, since it contains specific information about the future, not a “may the wind always be at your back” blessing formula). And of course, a prophesy which the LDS Church thinks that he got wrong. So it sounds very much like, instead of simply undermining the LDS claim to lineage, it undermines Joseph Smith’s claim to be a prophet.

2 Comments

  1. I was curious about the LDS response, and did some Googling. Hinkley’s explanation is here. Note that this was written prior to the forgery being discovered, although there is an editor’s note to that effect.

    It’s an interesting take; the two main points being (a) it was a blessing and not an ordination, which JSIII allegedly claimed as well; and (b) BY apparently looked and sounded like Joseph Smith, so obviously he was the real heir.

    It doesn’t begin to address the question of why Hinkley, being a genuine prophet of God, didn’t know from the first that it was a forgery — the strongest point of your argument. Also, the claim is that the document was made public immediately and subsequently gifted to the RLDS due to it’s “sentimental value.” No mention of trying to have it destroyed, etc.

  2. I read the article that JoAnna referred too by President Hinckley. The forgery was in the form of a father’s blessing. This is very different from an ordination. It is a very personal blessing from a father to a child. A parent wants the best for their child and for them to be the best they can be. That said blessings also rely on two things the worthiness of the receiver and the will of God.

    It also seems clear to me that the first Presidency and historians were researching (research for us means both physical and spiritual research) the writings to see if in fact it was valid or not. They weren’t saying it was or wasn’t yet in this talk they were just saying that if it were it would be valuable for the RLDS church as Joseph Smith’s lineage is in charge and they has several things of Joseph’s that is of great importance to them. If this was real it would just add to their important documents and items.

    I may repeat that it was in the form of a fathers blessing NOT an ordination to that calling. And they were still in the process of researching this alleged blessing. No one had said that it was real, they only stated the importance it would have for RLDS members if it were in fact real. And they weren’t trying to “destroy” any evidence that would overthrow them.

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